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“L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” The French phrase is scrawled in the middle of the stage about three-quarters of the way through Rick Cummins and John Scoullar’s 2000 adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved 1943 novella, serving as a constant reminder that what is essential is invisible to the eyes. It’s a message that is especially relevant to a theater like Lookingglass, which constantly uses visual spectacle to transport audiences to magical fantasy worlds that elicit real emotional responses. In the best Lookingglass productions, dynamic movement and technical innovation appeal to the eye, but ultimately work together to elicit specific feelings that make the action on stage especially personal.
A philosophically dense fable that explores fantastic environments while delving into real-world socio-political ideologies, The Little Prince is a piece that's garnered many a stage adaptation. With striking visuals, exciting acrobatics and occasional bits of audience participation, Lookingglass’s production is geared toward children, forcing the adapters to simplify the more thought-provoking elements of story. It’s probably a wise decision, since the two children I brought to the show—9 and 13 years old, respectively—started to get shifty during the title character’s extensive ruminations on the nature of ownership and the value of creativity.
Saint-Exupéry’s story follows an Aviator (Ian Barford) who meets (hallucinates?) a Little Prince (Amelia Hefferon) after crashing his plane in the desert, undergoing a spiritual awakening when he hears the details of the boy’s journey. The book’s illustrations give director David Catlin a launch pad to create the type of spectacular imagery Lookingglass is known for, making the show a visual feast centered around a giant piece of paper that serves as both a sloping desert landscape and a canvas for the Aviator’s artwork. Courtney O’Neill does phenomenal work creating set pieces that are eye-popping yet functional, and William Kirkham captures the lush colors of the novel’s artwork with his vivid lighting design.
The source material draws on Saint-Exupéry’s real-life experience crashing his plane in the Sahara Desert, and Cummins and Scoullar’s adaptation emphasizes those ties by having the Aviator draw key moments of the Little Prince’s narrative on the stage. The Aviator is both observer and creator, chronicling the events on a huge paper desert that provides a visual summary of the entire production. Barford has a talent for emphasizing desperation in his characters, making him an ideal casting choice for an Aviator facing his imminent death in the desert.
In her professional debut, Hefferon has a greenness that fits the naive but sincere Little Prince, although the relationship between the Little Prince and his Rose (Louise Lamson) is less romantic and more like the bond between a small child and his teddy bear. It’s still passionate, but the desire is more juvenile. A supporting ensemble of Lookingglass regulars and one newcomer (Kasey Foster, who is delightful as a hyperactive French Fox with an amazing wig) does phenomenal work juggling multiple characters, with Adeoye, Kareem Bandealy, and Lauren Hirte creating huge personalities while performing remarkable acrobatic feats. The combination of immersive technical elements and charismatic acting cultivates an inviting atmosphere for all ages, making The Little Prince’s desert a wonderful place to get lost in this winter season.